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the contenders
Walter Hyatt

individual bios:
| Jimbeau | Steve | Tommy | Walter

The other South Carolinian in the group, Walter started out in music as a follower of the 60’s folk boom but began exploring other forms and writing his own songs while in his teens. Growing up in Spartanburg with Champ, Walter became a local favorite during his high school years by virtue of his mature voice and the wide ranging repertoire of his group the Walter Hyatt Consort. When David Ball entered the picture Uncle Walt’s Band was formed and during their two incarnations set standards for acoustic playing and harmony singing which have rarely been met. Their recordings have been reissued on the Omnivore Recordings label and are all in print and available.

Walter’s acoustic rhythm guitar was fundamental to The Contenders groove, both rhythmically inventive and right where it needed to be. His main instrument and prime means of communication, though, was his rich baritone voice. Full of sweetness and sly humor, when singing his own songs he was able to tell stories in a way that made the listener feel as though he was singing just for him or her. One of the Contenders’ greatest strengths was their stunning vocal harmony and Walter's gift for finding just the right notes had much to do with why it worked so well. 

After the demise of the Contenders and the final breakup of Uncle Walt’s band he recorded his first solo CD for MCA in 1990 with Lyle Lovett co-producing. Called King Tears, it was followed three years later by Music Town for Sugar Hill. Walter was on tour with his band, also named King Tears, when he boarded ValuJet flight 592 on the morning of May 11, 1996. He had played in Key West the night before and was on his way to Washington DC to attend his daughter’s college graduation but the plane crashed in the Florida swamp, taking the lives of all aboard. There were musical tributes in both Nashville (at the Ryman, no less) and Austin as well as a special on PBS’ Austin City Limits. Walter is survived by his wife Heidi and three children, Haley, Taylor, and Rose.

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